Why we work for universities – Aristotle on Thales

This is my laboratory blog and I normally post updates on research from my group. However, these are unusual times, and the government seems to have a distorted view of what universities are for. So please indulge me in an academically rigorous critique of government policy by quoting from Aristotle on the first recorded Philosopher, Thales. It may be fair to refer to Thales as the founder of the great European (and now global) academic enterprise that goes back over 2500 years. As you will see, this quote is particularly pertinent to me, as a mathematics graduate, I had the opportunity to have a vastly better paid career through modern-day speculation in the world of banking.

“The story goes that when they found fault with him for his poverty, supposing that philosophy is useless, he learned from his astronomy that there would be a large crop of olives. Then, while it was still winter, he obtained a little money and made deposits on all the olive presses both in Miletus and Chios. Since no one bid against him, he rented them cheaply. When the right time came, suddenly many tried to get the presses all at once, and he rented them out on whatever terms he wished, and so made a great deal of money. In this way he proved that philosophers can easily be wealthy if they desire, but this is not what they are interested in.”

Aristotle, Politics 1259a9-18 – 11A10. From Cohen, S.M., Curd, P. and Reeve, C.D.C. 2005. Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy, 3rd Ed., Hackett Publishing Company Inc, Indianapolis.


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